Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Infrastructure Bill, trespass law and fracking

A lot of the conversation around 'energy' looks at the size and ownership of any energy projects.
That is, the 'power' behind 'power'. For example:
Futures Forum: "Allowing fracking companies to drill on private land without first requiring a landowner’s permission." or ... "Neighborhood Environmentalism: Toward Democratic Energy"

Andrew Dewson, commenting in today's Independent, notes the contradictions in the ideology that has become 'energy policy':

American land seized for oil ... but there will not be blood

Andrew Dewson 24th January 2015

The company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline chose a good week to begin to force Nebraska ranchers in to court. President Obama’s zinger at the State of the Union address grabbed the headlines, thus saving the pipeline’s Republican supporters some very awkward questions.

TransCanada, which will presumably rename itself if the pipeline gets built, filed “eminent domain” – the forced sale of private land for public use – in order to get the last holdout ranchers to allow the use of their land. TransCanada wants their land for the pipeline route, but these ranchers don’t want it running through their fields.

The pipeline has become a cause célèbre for the Republicans – or the “grand old party” (GOP). Support from the American right has reached fever pitch, even though TransCanada itself said that the pipeline would create no more than a few hundred permanent jobs. That’s some way off House Speaker John Boehner’s claim of 100,000 jobs and the US Chamber of Commerce’s 250,000 claim, to put it mildly.

Despite huge variance in job creation claims, you could be forgiven for thinking that supporting a foreign corporation over Nebraska ranchers and private landowners might dampen support. But apparently not. That is exactly what happened this week, and not a peep out of pipeline supporters in Congress.

Republicans are so invested in support for the XL pipeline, there is almost nothing that could happen that would make them reassess that support, for to do so would mean losing face. Worse than losing face, it might mean siding with Democrats – a fate worse than death.

TransCanada won its eminent domain case in Texas in 2012, so is likely to win in Nebraska where the state legislature supports the pipeline proposal.

So we are left, then, with an extraordinary situation where politicians, those from the party of private property rights no less, are going to support the repeated, forced use of private land by a foreign corporation for the possibility of a few hundred permanent jobs – virtually none of which will be in Nebraska.

Luckily for Republicans, the irony is almost certainly lost on their supporters.

Standard & Poor's sub-prime wrist slap ignores the real problem - Business Comment - Business - The Independent

This is on the day after concerns were expressed in Virginia on the same issue of 'property rights':
Opponents of proposed gas pipeline rally at Virginia Capitol - Yahoo Finance UK

... and on the day several petitions have been handed in across the UK:
Cambridge anti-fracking protesters deliver petition to Julian Huppert ahead of Infrastructure Bill vote | Cambridge News
Legislation will ‘make it easier’ to frack in Mid Sussex - West Sussex Gazette

And this month, further licences to start exploration in Lancashire have been issued:
Possible fracking sites from Blackburn to Burnley to be monitored (From Lancashire Telegraph)

One of the key issues is 'eminent domain', otherwise known as 'compulsory purchase':
Eminent domain - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fracking involves horizontal drilling underground

Trespass law changed to allow fracking under private property - Utility Week

Matthew Lynn's suggestion in the Telegraph earlier in the summer was to suggest giving people more complete property rights:

Want people to back fracking? Let them own land under their property

Simply asking people to let the frackers into their area because it’s in the national interest sounds a bit like the Soviet Union circa 1970

By Matthew Lynn 4:53PM BST 29 Jul 2014


It is getting hard to know what else the Government might come up with to try to kickstart a British fracking boom. This week, it announced that it was inviting firms to bid for licences to explore for shale oil and gas across great swathes of the country, including some of the areas of natural beauty, although they will be subject to extra scrutiny. Its aim is simple. To create the kind of vibrant, fast-growing industry that has slashed the cost of energy in the US, and will soon make it self-sufficient again.

There is a problem, however: anywhere a drill is actually about to be sunk into the ground, the fracking companies face fierce opposition. Environmental groups are whipping up hysterical campaigns against the explorers, staging round the clock protests, and often making it impossible for the drilling to go ahead.

The response so far from the Government has been ridiculous – and makes a mockery of its attempt to create a UK industry. It has done nothing more than offer a few minor bribes, and the occasional lecture about supporting the national interest. It hasn’t started handing out free lollipops to villagers who allow the fracking companies in, but that is probably next on the list. Not surprisingly, people are not persuaded.

In fact, there is a far simpler solution available. Just let people own the mineral rights below their land, as they do in the US. That way, if there were shale gas in the area, the local people would make a pile of money from it. It would be surprising how quickly the opposition would melt away.

There is no question the UK could have a huge shale industry if it chose to. In the US, which is already many years ahead of us, it is already worth $76bn (£45bn) annually, according to its trade association, and by the end of this year that will have grown to $118bn. A huge amount of wealth has been generated as shale fields are opened up, and the infrastructure to support them gets built. There is no reason why the UK should be any different. We don’t have as much shale gas under the ground as the Americans do – we are, after all, a much smaller country. But there are still an estimated 1.3 trillion cubic feet of the stuff, and even if only 10pc of that could be got out of the ground it would still be enough to meet the UK’s gas needs for half a century...

Last year the Prime Minister, David Cameron, led an offensive to support the industry. Urging people to embrace fracking, he tried to sell the idea that it was in the national interest. Jobs and wealth would be created for the whole country, he argued. As a bonus, energy companies would be required to give £100,000 to any community where wells were drilled, as well as 1pc of the revenues generated from a field. The Scouts will no doubt get a new hall out of that, and the village fête may get a slightly better class of celebrity to open it. But it is hardly a big deal – and it prompts the question: “Where’s the other 99pc of revenues going?”

In truth, asking people to let the frackers into their area because it’s in the national interest sounds a bit like the Soviet Union circa 1970. Surely the right response for a government that supposedly believes in free markets and property rights is to extend ownership of mineral rights down to the centre of the Earth, as in the US? The exploration firms would then buy the rights directly from whoever owns the land and vast wealth would be generated for the community affected.

The benefits would suddenly outweigh the costs. True, the Government would lose some of the revenues it might expect to earn from the industry. Selling exploration licences was lucrative in the North Sea, and will be for shale gas as well – and the Government needs all the money it can lay its hands on. But the North Sea didn’t belong to anyone, and the only creatures who might have been upset were the cod – and they don’t vote or wave placards.

If the shale industry gets going, it won’t be the exploration licences that bring in the big money, it will be the tax on the energy produced, on the people working the rigs, and on the far larger number of jobs created by having significantly lower energy costs than our main industrial competitors. That is far more valuable in the medium-term than the revenues generated from exploration licences. Just let people own the mineral rights, and watch the industry and country flourish.

Want people to back fracking? Let them own land under their property - Telegraph

The Adam Smith Institute suggests "sending a cheque directly to every home in a village":

Fracking, property rights and compensation

Written by Dr. Eamonn Butler | Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 | Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

A new Infrastructure and Competitiveness Bill, to be announced to Parliament in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, will change the UK’s trespass law to allow shale gas exploration firms to drill beneath private property without needing the owners’ permission...

If public disquiet is not to hamper the UK’s fracking initiatives, compensation should do directly to those whose property is affected. And it must be large enough to convince the majority of them to accept the process. Sending a cheque directly to every home in a village is not such an onerous task. But it is the one thing that would make people accept – and even welcome – fracking under their property, the only practical measure that shows at least some respect for their property rights.

Fracking, property rights and compensation « Adam Smith Institute

In fact, the whole issue of 'fracking vs property rights' is deeply disturbing to 'neo-liberal'/'libertarian' notions as they are traditionally understood - but perhaps they need a rethink...

Here's an honest look at the intellectual wrangle over 'eminent domain' and building pipelines:
Keystone East: Not as Reasonable as Reason Thinks » CounterPunch

And here's another:

Fracking: Poster Child for the Corporate Welfare State

Kevin Carson | July 24th, 2014

Just about every week another story comes to my attention confirming the complete and total government-dependency of fracking — beloved of so many self-proclaimed “free market” advocates on the libertarian right. Something about eminent domain to build the pipelines, or liability caps for spills, or regulatory approval of unsafe pipelines superseding tort liability for negligence, and ad nauseam. I have another couple of them right here...

Fracking: poster child for the corporate welfare state - The Western News: Opinion

On the other hand, Naomi Klein, interviewed in the Guardian later in the year, sees things very differently - within the context of her latest book:

Naomi Klein: UK fracking trespass law flouts democratic rights

Adam Vaughan Tuesday 7 October 2014 

Recent changes to the law, enabling companies to frack beneath landowners’ properties without their permission, have fuelled resistance to fracking in Britain, says author and activist

Ministers’ rewriting of the law to allow fracking to happen beneath people’s homes without their permission flouts basic democratic rights, according to Naomi Klein.

The author and activist said that the UK government’s changes to trespass laws, to speed up the ability for shale gas companies to frack beneath landowners’ property, was energising resistance to fracking in Britain.

“What is animating the anti-fracking movement? Yes, it’s water. It’s also a defence of democracy. The fact the government is colluding with energy companies to force the right to frack underneath people’s homes without their permission flies in the face of the most common-sense definition of democracy and self-definition,” she told an audience at a Guardian event in London on Monday.

A consultation over the summer on the trespass law found that 99% of the 40,000 people who responded objected to the changes. But government officials said they would go ahead with the law change, as “no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution.”


Naomi Klein discusses her most provocative book yet, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. Naomi Klein Live - This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate - YouTube

Klein, whose new book addresses how capitalism is holding back efforts to tackle climate change quickly enough, said that shale gas and oil companies were being met by a global movement whose growth was incredible.

“The movement against fracking has been heroic. We are starting to see the kind of resistance where people have those stakes you’re talking about,” she told the event’s chair, Guardian columnist Owen Jones. “People get involved in fighting fracking not because of climate change but because they’re worried about their water. Water is what unites so many of these movements, whether it’s against tar sands, pipelines or fracking, coal mining, it’s water and love of place.”

Klein highlighted the series of climate marches around the world in September, which saw more than a reported 400,000 people out in New York and tens of thousands in cities including London, Paris and Melbourne, as a cause for hope. “I was tremendously gratified by what just happened in New York.”

She said it was not just the scale of the march in New York that had impressed her but the diversity, made up of local communities who had been hit by superstorm Sandy, indigenous people fighting tar sands developments, anti-fracking campaigners and what she described as the first time the Labor movement was out in force, calling for job creation in response to climate change.

“To me, it was not just the size of it, this march had a quality to it that I’d never seen at a mass environmental demonstration,” she said, adding to applause: “I think we need to be very clear about this - the only way you can win against forces with a huge amount to lose is to build a movement of people, many more people, with a huge amount to gain.”

The author also argued that rallying around action on climate change would be one of the most powerful ways to tackle austerity, by creating a case for investment in low carbon infrastructure from public money and taking energy ownership away from the ‘Big Six’ energy companies who she said had failed the UK. “This is our chance to liberate ourselves from the brutalising logic of austerity,” she said.

“Climate is the big tent we’ve been waiting for, and why wouldn’t it be, the atmosphere is the biggest tent of all, we’re all under it and we need to start acting like it.”

Naomi Klein: UK fracking trespass law flouts democratic rights | Environment | The Guardian

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